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The Emergence of an Aesclepian Psychotherapy 1

The idea for this essay was sparked off by a frightening, comforting dream I had about 15 years ago (1984). A woman from Swiss Radio came to interview me about my views on psychotherapy. We both sat on the floor. After a while she switched off the tape and said: "You talk like Laing, I am interested in your own work and theory. I want to hear your voice." I asked: "Is this a threat, or a warning?" She replied: "Again, epigrammatic". I think, missed my chance, wake up disappointed and sad. Like a Zen apprentice I had reached full identification with the master and was now; invited to use my own voice. Here was a chance to make my own views known.

The aim of this essay is to trace the process through which I came to realise how my work was both similar to, and different from, the work of Ronald David Laing (1927-1989). It is an attempt to situate myself as a psychotherapist within a particular therapeutic tradition. The dreams are both my own and my patients (someone who is in waiting, who can wait patiently), and the links between them will hopefully become clear as this essay proceeds.

One's therapeutic practice is always evolving, throwing up questions and challenges, and for me dreams have been a valuable means of raising questions about my own practice and, on occasion, helping towards formulating answers.

Dreams of psychotherapy have led me into unknown parts of myself as I have continued to discover my psychology. These dreams revealed that the content and context of my own therapeutic practice is in a process of constant transformation. They have also allowed me to voice different aspects of my feelings towards the healing process in which I am engaged.

Dreams are dramas of the soul which can be treasured as a means of shaping our imagination in daily life. Each individual possesses this well- spring of creativity and enlightenment. Dreams can help us to reconcile our hopes and fears with the reality of everyday existence. They weave being, feeling and knowing together in a tapestry of iconographic beauty.

Through them we can study the supposedly domesticated subterranean life we all carry around inside ourselves. They allow us to connect events and things which we would normally see from completely different points of view. Dreams are a nightly miracle which have, to borrow Francis Huxley's phrase, "enough power over reality to contradict it with advantage".

One useful principle of clarifying our experiences, both in dreams and in waking life, is to accept the reality of being one-Self and some-one-else at the same time. The Jungians call this the subjective and the objective part of the dream, since we can see a dream like a drama of the soul, a mythologem, as well as the subjective presentation of different aspects of one's present identity, a psychologem.

Dreams of therapy have a priceless gift in helping me cultivate a sure sense of myself as a therapist. The dreams helped me to compare my approach and methods with those of Laing and Francis Huxley - who are both teachers and friends of mine - and make clear the differences of temper and talent between us. By working with the dream material, it is now much clearer to me where I come from, in who s name I practice and what part dreams play in my own psychotherapeutic practice. As I go on, I make use of Francis Huxley's reminder, ''as long as you keep your temper, you do not lose the game even by drinking out of someone else's teacup."2 Besides my own cup of tea - therapeutic approach - I enjoyed tasting my teachers: Vera von der Heydt, Ronald Laing and Francis Huxley. Nevertheless as the following dreams will show, I have found and, hopefully, am keeping my temper.

Huxley, who has worked closely with Laing for over twenty years, states that there is a close bond between what we feel in our natural, biological body and what we dream about. Psychotherapy, as a ritual of initiation or rite of passage towards becoming oneself (what C.G. Jung called "Individuation"), does effect us as it affects our body-image. Only through these means, can "It" free our imaginations. Our self-image is the basis of our creativity. The vision freed through our imagination guides us through the field of myths and mysteries, both of which are at the root of our everyday habits and way of life.

Once we allow our visions and dreams to be cultivated and shared with . I fellow human beings, whether in psychotherapy or in artistic practice, we become concrete witnesses to personal and collective imagination and experience the actuality of transformation and re-enchantment. We are able to integrate and unify what is often thought to be opposed - inside- outside, male-female, life-death, psyche-soma and so on.

"For myth", writes Huxley," cannot be taken literally; it must be taken metaphorically as well. It describes an experience truthfully, but does so in terms whose real significance you can realize only when you have had the experience. Thus a myth is like a dream; indeed, sometimes it is a dream".3

The dramas and comedies of the soul in the theatre of our dream can be compared with, and read in the light of, the myths of Gods and Goddesses: and the effects and affects their actions and daimonic stories had and are having on others. We sometimes even recognise our own experience in a particular myth. Such possibilities are an encouragement to share our own experiences both by day and by night in dreams and let others share theirs with us. Thus we can all learn more about our Selfs and each other. Francis Huxley's point on dreams, will be remembered once we come to the last dream in this paper featuring him personally as well.

Ronald Laing has eloquently described some of these experiences in his books Knots; Sonnets; Wisdom, Madness and Folly; The Facts of Life and The Voice of Experience, to name but a few. They provide pointers for our thinking which I have made use of in my own psychotherapeutic practice. They are a good antidote to the psychology of blame, where we make others the victim of our actions, and ourselves victims of others' action.

Sometimes patients bring dreams which feature Ronald Laing. This is not surprising since they know from conversation with me, that I come from a Laingian tradition.

The neurologist's dream

This dream is a pleasant example of one of Laing's basic premises or principles in action - that of indecidability, or the 'mirroring' of the other, the playing back and what is called' being alone in one's present'. I include this dream since it shows very well one side of the tradition and therapeutic culture in which I work.

The dream is from a 38 year old woman patient of mine. She is both a neurologist and a psychiatrist.

Ronald Laing came to our therapy session. I was to have one hour with him. I feel very tense wondering what will happen. There he is, slender, delicate and simply dressed. That's him, the master. He speaks very little, he just studies me, thinks about what he sees in me, just as if he were asking himself "What's the matter with her?" I am very aware of my history, my prehistory and development. How I would like to do things without making mistakes, do everything completely right, and behave perfectly.

I try to treat him politely, in the way I think I ought. I try with all my might, I do my utmost. But he just mirrors me - everything I do, all my compulsive behaviour. He tells me why I am doing what I am doing He says that it's not important that I have lived falsely, or that my family upbringing was wrong. What matters is that I have never valued the essential things in life, and these are what I miss now. I think he would have valued someone more spontaneous, someone more artistic. I have become superficial, nonessential. All that behavioural psychology stuff is nonsense. All this became clear. Now my parents appear. Laing stays in the background, distancing himself yet still very much present. The only way out is suicide. Anxiety. What will happen now? Is Laing going to sentence me, destroy me? No, he tolerates my 'being-so'. Life continues with a new experience and a new insight.

In this dream of meeting and being with Laing, he is practising what he "deems appropriate to the occasion" (Winnicott's phrase)4, without verbalising her nascent consciousness of what she transfers from her past relationships in the family into her relationship with him.

"He mirrors me", is one of the basic tenets of Laing's psychotherapeutic method, which aims to allow the other to experience his or her false and, true selves and the discrepancies between the two. When we talked about what the dream meant she said she felt very strongly held in suspense by 'Laing's' attention to her follies. She experienced the transference as a hindrance, while at the same time, helping her to realise what she was doing. In other words, in the dream she experienced 'Laing's' ability to mimic people - a very powerful therapeutic tool. She was able to recognise that 'Laing' could be with her in that way without condemning her true self. It gave her a chance to move with 'Laing', bringing with her the fear, anxiety and embarrassment she felt at being 'caught out'. The open-heartedness with which it was done allowed her to look at where her past experience and all her learned 'good behaviour' had taken her. (Suicide as the only way out here expresses the struggle between the true self and the false self staged vividly in the dream). Suicide would free her from having to take further evasive action to stay alive, and from the consciousness of and despair about the faults that remained as she attained greater self-awareness.

In this dream, Laing's therapeutic capacity to be open-heartedly available to the other is evident. In reality she had seen him only once several years before when he was giving a lecture. In the dream she was sharing one hour in a room with him in which, to quote Laing himself, "one human being actually gets into the same place at the same time to meet another human being, and as a psychotherapist, to intervene in the hope that intervention will in one way or another bring some clarity to the situation, so that the confusion of the people will be mitigated in some way".5 Using harmless means, of course.

The first dream of the therapist

I had the following dream at a point (1985) when I was reflecting upon my psychotherapeutic practice. It centred on the question: 'Is this 'being-with-others', psychotherapy?

I am in a therapeutic community for ex-heroin addicts. I am there as therapist for our weekly group-therapy session. We, three women and four men, begin our morning sitting in a circle on the floor. We try to make sense of what is going on between the members of the group, sharing our difficulties in living in a therapeutic community especially in what we 'do' to each other. Among us, which is unusual, sits a guest, Hans-Dieter Leuenberger, a Bioenergetic Analyst, who is also a theologian and a Jungian Analyst. Suddenly, together with Roger and Ester, who are lovers, I find myself at the edge of a swimming pool in the middle of the room. Roger wants to jump in headfirst. Ester and I struggle with him and hold him back. I say to Roger, "I know where the bottom of the pool is, and the water is running in. At the moment it's only about knee-deep. If you jump in headfirst you'll break your neck".

The water keeps running in, and I watch it rise higher. "There's not even enough water in there for a decent swim," I continue, "You'll scrape your knees on the bottom and get fresh injuries." Despite what I say, he continues to struggle. Ester now talks to him in a soothing, calming manner, trying to stop his strenuous attempts while I hold him at the edge. We wrestle endlessly. Finally, he sees reason and gives up the idea of jumping. We turn back to the circle of others on the floor who have been watching us attentively. Roger and Ester sit down in a relaxed way. As I am about to sit down Leuenberger asks me, "Is this therapy?" I am taken aback and hesitate to give a reply. After thinking on my feet for a moment I say, "Yes. You see something, someone moves. We move. We get up or down, we hold each other, we argue and are in touch with one another. We look into the pool, hold our temper and face each other in a situation which is dangerous for Roger and for us. You sit and watch what is going on, not knowing what might happen, what might come of all this ". Then I sat down.

This dream also has a therapeutic setting and begins with the therapeutic exchange of experiences. Then there is a change, an unexpected, very physical and strongly emotional event. The dream ends with the question as to what was therapeutic about it and an answer to that question.

Why did Roger want to jump into the water? Difficult to answer, since nobody ever knows everything appropriate to a given situation. Water can be seen as a longing to dissolve or to disperse and undo bodily knots of twisted and dislocated attitudes rooted in childhood experiences. Preventing Roger from inflicting fresh injuries upon himself was in itself therapeutic, as it avoided new problems covering up primary ones. There is a similarity between heroin addiction (the attempt to get rid of problems, which are not in fact solved this way) and his attempt to jump into the pool. He wanted a quick way out of his difficulties, but this would have harmed him more than it helped. He wanted to jump into the water, but it was not yet deep enough to carry him. By preventing him from doing what he wanted, Esther and I were in communication with each other and with him; what he wanted from the water - emotional support - was obtained from us. The question "Is this therapy?" came from a man with a different therapeutic approach (Bioenergetic Analysis) and a definite set of practical guidelines. (He was in fact leading a therapeutic workshop with my wife and colleague at the time). The answer I gave in the dream was to give an explanation by first describing a pattern from a therapeutic practice - we move, are in touch with one another: praxis descriptions - and therapeutic process - face each other in a situation which is bad and dangerous: process description - and, following from this, an overview of what might happen or be done, or not be done, about what we had just experienced in terms of therapeutic intervention and goal.

When I am involved as a therapist, I am not in the position, as the guest therapist is, to reflect on what is and has been going on, nevertheless I am moving within a sovereign feeling of certainty - whatever I am living through is therapeutically valid, and need not be the only possible, or true, deed or action.

It dreamt me this dream in the autumn of 1985, at the point when, after three years of being in that community once a week, I began to reflect on the therapeutic approach which I had been taught when in apprenticeship with Laing and Huxley in the Philadelphia Association.6 I realised there was a great difference between the setting and the people there and in London. There people were in a deeply distressed condition after years of heroin addiction, and dealing with their daily affairs, their emotional turmoil and chaotic past took most of the day. The weekly therapy group which I attended was just one of many structured events in their therapeutic programme. Some were there because they had to be; others, a minority, were there by choice. Despite these difficulties, it was possible to connect with one another's thoughts and feelings and by doing so to relieve and be relieved of much suffering and pain. It was a therapeutic culture which allowed repressed experience to surface so that they could be acknowledged and accepted.

I shared this dream with the therapeutic group, together with other dreams concerning my therapeutic method and my position as a therapist. Cultivating dreams is one means I use - in following the Anazazi custom at early morning gatherings of telling dreams in company which helps to allow the patterns of the daily activity to unfold in common communality - allowing unconscious realities to be communicated to both oneself and those others sharing our company. By "unconsciousness" I mean, with Laing, that which we don't communicate to ourselves and to others. By telling dreams I free my Self from that bondage of silence.

The addict's dream

Three months after my first dream, Roger related his first dream during a group therapy session. I describe it here since it is linked to my own dream and they each shed light upon the other. Roger dreamed as follows:

I was taking a tram to the 'Zentral' station in Zurich. Among the passengers I recognised two plain-clothes policemen from the drug squad. I hurried to get off at the next stop and they followed me. One called out "Hey Roger! Where are you going?" "Ehm, I'm going to my weekly therapy session just up the road. " I was lying, and they knew it, and they knew I was on the run. They tried to arrest me, but I got away. I jumped on the next tram and they run after it. I pulled the emergency handle, jumped out of the open door and ran as fast as I could up the hill in front of me. Looking back, I saw them change into a woman with a dog. I reached the top of the hill which turned out to be a cliff by the sea. I jumped in headfirst, diving deep into the water. I had an overwhelming sense of relief at being saved. When I surfaced If found myself dripping wet in the entrance hall of a house in the red- light district of Zurich, where I used to go for years when an addict. I stripped and hung my clothes over a radiator. I stood there naked and waited.

How does this connect with my dream? In my dream Roger had to wait, he could not jump into the water; in his dream he did jump, but only ended up back at square one, as an ex-addict, waiting. Waiting to be delivered from being dictated to! When an addict wants heroin, she or he will get it, whatever the cost. Waiting also for an arm around his shoulder, for someone who will 'dive' into his and his ancestors' life, to find what the dictatorship - or spell - is, under which he is living. Waiting is chaos at rest, a breathing space, a chance to think and feel about where to turn next.

Yet, what Roger was waiting for - to get out of the community - he did not elaborate upon further.

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1 Huxley, F. (1959). The Miraculous Virgin of Guadalupe. International Journal of Parapsychology. 1,20.
2 Huxley, F. (1976). The Raven and the Writing Desk. Thames & Hudson, p39.
3 Huxley, F. (1974). The Way of the Sacred. Aldous Books, p.120.
4 Winnicott, D.W. (1980). The Piggle. Penguin Books, p. xvi.
5 Evans, R.I. & Laing, R.D. (1976). The Man and His Ideas. E.P. Dutton, p.36/42.
6 Articles of the Philadelphia Association. (1971). London.

Theodor Itten
"The Emergence of an Aesclepian Psychotherapy." Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis 12.1 (January 2001), pp 48-64.

An earlier version of this paper, with the title: "I had a dream of Therapy", was originally part of a Festschrift for R.D. Laing's 60th Birthday, in 1987, with the title "R.D. Laing. So What?" Edited by Theodor Itten.

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